The United States is home to one of the most stressed out populations in the world. In general, we often spread ourselves thin to adhere to the expectations set by society. Full schedules, back-to-back meetings, and dealing with family stresses are the norm, and it is up to us to adapt the best we can. This type of living is hard to keep up with, and can leave us feeling overwhelmed and drained without any promise of rest on the horizon.
High levels of stress take a toll on both our mental and physical health. Stress can cause illness, alter brain chemistry, impact the ability to make decisions, and more. The body works extra hard to push through these periods of difficulty, which can lead to a breakdown of sorts. Exhaustion and illness are the signals our body sends up like white flags to slow down, but we often don’t feel that’s an option. So, what options do we have?
Common Sources of Stress
In order to understand how we deal with stress, it’s important to first know what a stressor is. Typically, a stressor can include anything that raises a stress response; an emotion, memory, environment, or situation. Certain scents or sounds—music is a particularly universal one—can emote certain feelings, resulting as stressors.
Job stresses, financial problems, loss of a loved one, health issues, relationship conflicts, and other major life changes are also common stressors. Many try to push through these stressors and not change too much of their daily lives to avoid discomfort, disruption, drastic change, or any other feelings they deem negative. For example, if a married couple is having difficulties but has young children, they may not address their issues for the sake of the kids. This can lead to further problems between the couple, and eventually, drain into other parts of their life.
Health Issues Resulting from Stress
High levels of stress and stressors that are not tended to can cause serious health problems. It’s important to treat these issues as they arise—to ‘nip it in the bud’ as the old saying goes—before they have substantial negative impacts on our health, relationships, or quality of life.
Below are some of the health consequences faced if high amounts of stress are not attended to:
Mental + Emotional:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Negative attitude and disposition
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Sadness, listlessness
- Change in diet (eating more or less than usual)
- Gaining/losing weight quickly
- Neglecting responsibilities
- Turning to substances for relief
- Changes in habits – sleeping, eating
- Quick to anger causing difficulty in relationships
- Increased heartbeat
- Often sick with flu symptoms
- Lack of sleep
- Unbalanced diet
Ways to Lower Stress Levels
- Exercise: Staying active is a great way to combat stress. It releases endorphins while also keeping your body in shape. If you aren’t big on breaking a sweat, consider a yoga class or taking an easy hike. Nature can lift our energy levels, too.
- Diet: Take care of what you’re giving your body for fuel, and when you’re eating it! Try to avoid high amounts of sugar, fat, and carbohydrates. If you do indulge in them more often than not, balance it out by getting plenty of leafy greens and proteins to keep your brain energized. Try not to eat late at night – make a schedule and stick to it the best you can. Also, reducing caffeine intake can be hugely beneficial. Though we might reach for an extra cup of coffee in the afternoon when feeling tired, it can lead to feeling more stressed out, a headache, jitteriness, or difficulty sleeping that night.
- Mindfulness: Prayer and meditation are helpful tools when you need to take a step back and check in with yourself. Breathing exercises are also scientifically proven to lower blood pressure, and can give you a sense of peacefulness in a pretty small window of time. You can also do a quick meditation or breathing exercise even if you’re on the go.
- Aromatherapy: Lavender and chamomile scents have known healing properties and can have soothing effects. You can try burning a candle or purchasing essential oils to dab on your temples/wrists at times when you’re feeling stressed. These also come in handy if you have difficulty sleeping—oil diffusers have become popular with battling insomnia as an alternative to medication that can lead to dependence or grogginess the following day.
- Self-care: It’s important to take care of yourself and your body no matter what. This can include one-on-one therapy, group therapy, getting plenty of sleep, and incorporating some kind of daily relaxation into your routine. If you have a trusted friend or relative you feel comfortable talking to, see if you can arrange a weekly phone call. If your preference is through journaling, make that a priority for yourself.
- Laughter: One of the most underrated de-stressors! They don’t call it the best medicine for nothing. Laughing can boost your immune system and mood, relax your muscles, and relieve your stress response. Check out some of the popular podcasts available today, or watch an old sitcom you like to get the good vibes going.
- Spend time with loved ones: Connection with friends and family is so important, and can have healing effects when we find ourselves in states of high-stress. The simple ritual of having tea and conversation with someone close to us can be calming and help us to work through some issues we are dealing with. Spend time with pets is equally rewarding/relieving and good for our mental health, too!
NFA Behavioral Health + Stress
Stress is an unfortunate part of life and may never be completely avoidable, but the ways discussed above can help you manage it with greater ease so it doesn’t negatively impact your life.
If you have tried to bring down your stress levels and find yourself having great difficulty doing so, you may consider professional treatment. Stress should not be a hindrance on your daily life, or make it difficult for you to enjoy the things you once loved. Our team at NFA Behavioral Health would be more than happy to discuss your particular situation, and they are available to talk with you 24/7. Please give us a call today at 866.420.6222.